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BBC Monitoring
Director of Russian opinion poll centre says there is no alternative to Putin
Source: Ekho Moskvy radio, Moscow, in Russian 0910 gmt 2 Jan 03

The director of the All-Russian Centre for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM), Yuriy Levada, was interviewed on Russian Ekho Moskvy radio on 2 January in his capacity as an expert on what people in Russia think.

The conversation began with main events of the year such as the Moscow Dubrovka theatre siege (23-26 October) and led to Levada noting that, compared with the end of 2001, people's hopes had fallen somewhat: confusion and fear were up. Of those polled by the centre, 30 per cent were going into 2003 with hope, while at the end of 2001, 33 per cent were hopeful about 2002.

Levada noted that, despite better lives and increased spending power, irrespective of inflation, about a third of people were worried about unemployment and economic uncertainties and this accounted for the slight percentage drop. The Dubrovka theatre siege and other political processes enhanced anxieties.

People generally hoped that their lives would be a little bit better in 2003; 51 per cent hope 2003 will be more successful for them than 2002 - the figure for last year was 50 per cent.

Levada went on to talk about President Putin, noting that "he was and remains the president of hope". Since coming to power, Levada said, Putin had been judged not so much on what he had done, but on the hopes that people placed on him. Only a comparatively small section of people appraised Putin highly for what he had done for Russia, Levada said. In 2002, 21 per cent of people who were polled highly appraised his work and in 2001 that figure was 14 per cent.

What Putin had done to strengthen the country's international prestige was an "undoubted success", Levada said. As for the rest, establishing order in the country, improving people's lives, defending freedom and democracy and the Chechen problem - people saw failures here rather than successes. Forty per cent of respondents thought Putin would deal with the country's problems.

Levada stressed that "Putin has become a figure without an alternative. He has no direct rivals either among personalities or among [political] parties". In 2002, Putin was named man of the year by 53 per cent of people polled, 1 per cent more than in 2001 when he was named man of the year by 52 per cent.

Continuing to quote statistics, Levada said that 16 per cent of respondents trusted President Putin completely, roughly 60 per cent trusted him on the whole and only a negligibly small percentage was negative in views about him

"Putin entered our political lives as a person who was known by almost nobody," Levada said. "The question of who he is or who he may be, and what he can do remains an open one to this day." From the very start, Levada said, all manner of people - right-wing, left, centre - placed their hopes on Putin, hoping that he could do something for them and some people still thought that way.

On the subject of political parties and the State Duma (elections take place in December 2003), Levada thought the composition of the lower house would remain practically unchanged once elections were over. He said the centre conducted monthly polls to ascertain Russian people's views on political parties and according to the latest poll Communists occupied first place, the Unity party was second and then came the Union of Right Forces, Yabloko and then the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia. New political parties couldn't be seen on the horizon, he said.

About 30 per cent of Russians, according to Levada, voted consistently for the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, and to an extent this figure represented a protest vote because "we do not have real opposition parties apart from the Communists". "The whole mass of any protest, on all issues, including foreign political and Chechnya, falls to the lot first and foremost of the Communists," Levada concluded

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